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Statement: “I have been investigated up and down by almost every possible agency, to no avail, reported my income and paid my taxes,” former CCDC president Nancy Graham said in a comment posted on the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post’s website this week.
Determination: Huckster Propaganda
Analysis: Graham left San Diego in 2008 after we raised questions about her financial disclosures and ties to downtown developers.
In her statement to the Florida newspaper, Graham asserted that she reported her income — a central issue in a scandal that fully unfolded after she left.
While at CCDC, Graham received millions in profits from a private deal she’d done in Florida. The Ethics Commission, which recently fined Graham $32,000 for violating city ethics rules, concluded that the income — more than $3 million altogether — should’ve prohibited Graham from negotiating a downtown hotel deal that would’ve benefited that company, Lennar Corp.
She never reported the income in her annual conflict of interest disclosure forms, which all high-profile public officials complete under penalty of perjury.
Graham’s attorney, Paul Pfingst, argues that she didn’t have to report the income because it came from an out-of-state company.
Whether she had to report it or not, she didn’t disclose the $3 million she received while at CCDC from a Florida company whose sister company owned land downtown here. Claiming she reported income — income that disqualified her from being able to negotiate a major hotel deal — is simply not true.
The only public place she reported receiving money from her private deal was in a sworn deposition she gave in Florida in 2007. But those annual conflict disclosure forms here contained no mention of it. CCDC’s conflict-of-interest code, which outlines what has to be reported, says all sources of income from developers doing business downtown have to be disclosed.
Graham pleaded no contest in 2009 to one misdemeanor count of failing to accurately complete those forms. (A no-contest plea is not an admission of guilt but is treated like a conviction.)
Graham’s false comment to the paper came while saying she wouldn’t run for West Palm Beach mayor again, as had been rumored there. Throughout her statement, she made several false claims about well-established facts in an attempt to fight back against what she said were “attempts to ruin my credibility.” But in her explanation, she repeatedly misrepresented facts, casting herself in a better light. And these are facts that you could reasonably expect her to know. That makes the totality of her comments Huckster Propaganda.
Suggesting that investigations into Graham were “to no avail” is also false. While the FBI investigated Graham and never charged her, the city’s Ethics Commission investigated Graham and fined her $32,000 for violating city ethics laws 18 times. The City Attorney’s Office also charged her with five misdemeanors; she pleaded no contest to one, was fined $3,300 and agreed not to lobby or run for office in California for three years.
Graham also claimed in her newspaper comment that the Ethics Commission’s full board “in fact found that while there was a technical violation, I did not do anything intentionally or knowingly, had no contact with Lennar, and at most was negligent for not checking to see whether a conflict of interest existed.”
The full Ethics Commission board never drew such a conclusion. A three-member panel did say Graham had not profited by influencing the hotel deal here. But in recommending a fine , it didn’t reference whether she’d been deceitful or not. It said Graham was “a sophisticated, experienced government official, and should have been aware of the high risks posed by her improper participation in a large scale project.”
When the commission fined Graham Aug. 12, two of its five board members said she had been deceitful or intentionally concealed information. The commission fined her more than it’d originally proposed because of that.
“The record does show an attempt to deceive,” Commissioner John O’Neill said in August.
“I’m convinced that someplace along the line she shifted from accidental to intent,” Commissioner Bud Wetzler said then.
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